is a UGARCANE BURNING
Why is the sugarcane industry
important to Louisiana?
Of the domestic sugar industries, Louisiana
has the oldest and most historic. Sugarcane
arrived in Louisiana with the Jesuit priests
in 1751 and, in 1795, Etienne deBore
granulated sugar on a commercial scale at
Audubon Park in New Orleans. The Louisi-
ana sugarcane industry is in its third century
of existence, having celebrated its 200th
year of continuous sugar production in
Sugarcane is produced on more than 450,000 acres of
land in 25 of the 64 Louisiana parishes. In 1999, total
production of 15,982,000 tons of sugarcane yielded
1,675,000 tons of sugar. Growers averaged 37 tons of
sugarcane and 7,800 pounds of sugar per acre, both
new state records. The value of this sugar to farmers,
factories and landlords exceeded $740 million, al-
though the direct economic value generated from the What are the benefits of burning
crop exceeded $2 billion. Sugarcane ranks first in the sugarcane?
state among plant commodities, which also include
rice, soybeans, corn and cotton. Louisiana produces The benefits of burning sugarcane are:
about 16 percent of the total sugar grown in the United
States (includes both sugar from sugar beet and sugar- An overall lower cost of production that benefits
cane). Approximately 32,000 people are employed in farmers and consumers
the production of sugar in Louisiana on 690 farms and Allows more efficient harvesting of sugarcane
in 18 factories. in the field
Reduces the number of hauling units on the
Why do farmers burn sugarcane in the highways delivering sugarcane to the factory
first place? for processing, thus reducing wear and tear on
Decreases the volume of material to be processed
Farmers burn sugarcane to reduce the amount of leafy
by the factories
extraneous material, including stalk tops, delivered
Shortens the harvest season by as much as 10
with the cane to the factories for processing.
Increases the yield of sugar recovered per ton of
sugarcane by the factories and improves
overall quality of the sugar produced
Reduces wear and tear on field and factory
Reduces energy expenditures in the field and by
What is a prescribed burn?
A prescribed burn can be defined as a controlled
application of fire in a confined predetermined area to
accomplish the harvest of sugarcane under specified
smoke and ash management guidelines. A prescribed
burn is used in sugarcane production to reduce the
trash in harvested cane. This prescribed burn can occur
in cut or standing cane: in cut cane after the cane has
Burning standing cane prior to combine harvesting. been harvested by the whole-stalk harvester and
What will happen if farmers are not placed on the ground between two rows (called the
heap row), or, in standing cane before being harvested
able to burn sugarcane? by the combine harvester.
The ability of farmers to burn sugarcane is a signifi-
cant economic factor for the survival of the individual
farmer and the sugarcane industry. The sugarcane
plant consists of about 75 percent to 80 percent net
cane (stalks) from which the juice is extracted and the
sugar crystalized. The other 20 percent to 25 percent
of the plant consists of leafy material, including tops,
from which little or no sugar is produced. This leafy
material is called trash. Burning sugarcane before
harvest removes from one-half to two-thirds of this
trash that would otherwise contribute nothing to sugar Burned standing cane.
production. Further, it is estimated that, by not burning
this trash, the industry would spend more than $24
million in transportation and processing costs. Re-
search data show that there is an actual reduction of 3
pounds in the yield of recoverable sugar per gross ton
of sugarcane for each 1 percent of trash processed by
the factory. There is currently no profitable or effec-
tive way to deal with this large volume of trash by
Until proven technology allows economically efficient
harvesting without burning, it is critical that growers Burned standing cane being harvested
and processors do the best job possible with regard to by combine.
smoke and ash management. Louisiana is not the only
state, nor is sugar production the only industry, facing
this challenge. Every industry that uses prescribed
burning recognizes that a cost-effective mechanism for
reducing or eliminating open field burning is a re-
search topic of high importance. Further, because of
current low domestic sugar prices, the farmer would be
hard pressed to survive without burning to reduce
production costs and improve quality of the product
delivered to the factory for processing.
Burning cane on heap rows.
What are the recommended What are the objectives of smoke
procedures to be used in the and ash management?
prescribed burning of sugarcane?
The objectives of smoke and ash management are:
The recommended procedures in prescribed burning of
sugarcane are: Be a good and considerate neighbor.
Step 1. Identify areas sensitive to smoke and ash. Minimize the adverse effect caused by open field
burning of sugarcane.
Step 2. Develop a prescribed burn plan.
Prevent smoke and ash from being blown across
Step 3. Obtain fire weather forecast from U.S. public highways and airports.
Prevent smoke and ash from affecting public areas,
Step 4. Determine smoke category day. especially public health facilities such as hospitals,
clinics, nursing homes and doctors’ offices, etc.
Step 5. Determine smoke and ash screening distance.
Prevent smoke and ash from affecting schools during
Step 6. Determine trajectory of smoke and ash plume. times when students and teachers are present.
Step 7. Evaluate the prescribed burn results. Prevent smoke and ash from affecting individual
homes, subdivisions and other housing facilities.
Note: In prescribed burning of sugarcane, it is
recognized that numerous variables affect the fire Minimize ash fallout that may result from burning
behavior and resulting smoke and ash. These proce- sugarcane.
dures do not attempt to consider all the variables,
but they offer basic guidelines. What is being done now to help
What is smoke and ash management?
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry
Smoke and ash management can be defined as con- (LDAF), the American Sugar Cane League of the
ducting a prescribed burn under recommended weather U.S.A., Inc., and the LSU AgCenter developed the
conditions and with burning techniques designed to following training curriculum titled, Louisiana Smoke
reduce the impact on the environment, public health Management Guidelines for Sugarcane Harvesting.
and welfare from smoke and ash generated from The program is called the Certified Prescribed
prescribed burning. Burn Manager (CPBM) program and
by the LDAF.
To date, there have
been eight training sessions
where 1,374 farmers and
their employees have re-
ceived training, with 1,350
having been certified as CPBM.
Additional training sessions will
be scheduled as needed.
Burned cane on heap rows.
What is a Certified Prescribed Burn What can be expected with the
Manager (CPBM)? application of these guidelines?
A CPBM is an individual who: Application of these guidelines should minimize the
concentration of smoke and ash in sensitive areas and
(1) Has successfully completed the approved help to maintain air quality standards.
certification program as outlined in the training
manual and passed a written test.
(2) Has performed at least five (5) prescribed
(3) Has received a letter of certification from the
Louisiana Department of Agriculture and
What are additional responsibilities of
a Certified Prescribed Burn Manager
The CPBM will provide education and training to all
of their employees who help to conduct burning
operations. Further, the CPBM should ensure that all
individuals who conduct prescribed burns are trained
and certified. A thorough explanation of the goals and
recommendations will help employees understand the
importance of smoke and ash management. Addition-
ally, it should be emphasized that prescribed burns Prepared by: Ben Legendre, Extension Specialist
should not go unattended. Accordingly, a CPBM (Sugarcane), LSU AgCenter.
Information was obtained from the following sources:
should be on site whenever sugarcane open field
Louisiana Smoke Management Guidelines for Sugarcane
burning activities are conducted. Further, proper Harvesting prepared by William A. Carney, Environmental
equipment for controlling and confining fires, includ- Science Division, LSU AgCenter; Brad Spicer and Butch
ing a water tank, should be available at all burns. The Stegall, Office of Soil and Water, Louisiana Department of
guidelines taught in the sugarcane prescribed burn Agriculture and Forestry; and Carrie Borel, Environmental
management training program are designed to mini- Programs, LSU AgCenter; Louisiana Smoke Management
mize the concentrations of smoke and ash in sensitive Guidelines for Sugarcane Harvesting, Training Summary
areas and provide for cleaner air. The implementation Report Summer 2000 prepared by William A. Carney and
of these voluntary guidelines will allow the industry to The Louisiana Sugar Industry prepared and distributed by
manage smoke and ash from sugarcane burning more the American Sugar Cane League of the U.S.A., Inc.
effectively. Growers are strongly encouraged to rou-
tinely incorporate these guidelines as standard harvest-
Visit our website: www.lsuagcenter.com
Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, William B. Richardson, Chancellor
Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, Jack L. Bagent, Vice Chancellor and Director
Pub. 2820 (2M) 9/00
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States
Department of Agriculture. The Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service offers equal opportunities in programs and employment.